Hollywood often stereotypes newly divorced men as living their best life and enjoying their newfound freedom. This portrayal of an unaffected divorced man has also been reinforced culturally in our society, where men are often told to not wear their hearts on their sleeves to uphold the traditional construct of masculinity (Cocoran, 1997). Men who demonstrate their emotions — such as grief — vulnerably is often seen as weak and incompetent.
Due to the social stigma of male emotional expression, men going through divorce tend to experience a greater sense of loneliness and alienation from people around them (Scourfield & Evans, 2015).
Men are less likely to reach out for help.
According to Vukalovich & Caltabiano (2008), men are less likely to seek help for the emotional and psychological distresses arising from divorce. There is often an unspoken fear and insecurity among divorced men, “in the light of socialization and societal expectation” where men are expected to be rational and impermissible to demonstrate intense emotions (Baum, 2004). Moreover, common societal perceptions of male sex role tend to highlight self-sufficiency, independent problem-solving and emotional inhibition, which sets up a mental barrier for men to seek help and support, especially on the emotional front. These unhealthy messages can greatly contribute to the reluctance of men going through divorce, whether it is to seek psychological support through counselling or simply confide in a friend.
One possible repercussion is that men tend to skip the grieving process and bottle up their distress, which has the potential to develop into a serious condition such as in massive depression and anxiety attacks. Grieving, or rather, the “permission” to grief, is a crucial emotional process for anyone going through a traumatic life event such as divorce to undergo, especially when it is considered one of the most stressful things anyone can experience (Fasching, 2011). Men must be given the permission, whether implicitly or explicitly, to grieve without judgement.
Brad Pitt, in an interview conducted by The Telegraph (2017) after his split from Angelina Jolie, shared about his “emotional trauma” which had plunged him into deep sadness. He also revealed that he had spent 6 weeks at a friend’s house after the divorce simply because he was “too sad” to go home. It seems like even Hollywood stars are not exempt from feeling down and out after experiencing such an unfortunate and tragic life event.
Men do miss their children… very much.
Fathers are usually not the primary caretaker, though this trend may be shifting (Shapiro & Lambert, 1999). Mothers are the ones who tend to receive care and control rights of their children while fathers will only have scheduled access right. Although fathers may be less involved in caring for their children directly than mothers, this does not lessen the pain of the separation experienced by both parties. Fathers may still experience great emotional losses since the affirmation of their parental identify that comes from living with the children will be challenged (Clulow, 1990). Personally, I have seen and heard of many fathers who have cried and grieved over the loss of the emotional and relational attachment from their children in private.
Men and women may not necessarily mourn their losses in the same ways (Fasching, 2011). These may give rise to stereotypical viewpoints of how men tend to be nonchalant whereas women are more aggrieved. The reality is this: Divorce is tough on both men and women at many levels. There is no winner when both parties are going through such a difficult life event.
As friends, family members and colleagues — let us extend our empathy and care readily to both men and women who are going through divorce. They deserve our sympathy and should feel safe in the manner which they choose to grieve in.
Written by: Yap Ching Keong, Counsellor, Fei Yue Community Services
BAUM, N. 2004. On helping divorces men to mourn their losses. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 58(2):174-185.
Clulow, C. (1990). Divorce as bereavement: Similarities and differences. Family and Conciliation Courts Review, 18(1), 19-22.
CORCORAN, K.O. 1997. Psychological and emotional aspects of divorce. [Online] Available: http://www.mediate.com/articles/psych.cfm [Accessed 03/03/2021].
Fasching, H. P. (2011). Divorce: Gender differences in mourning the loss of a marriage. Alliant International University, San Francisco Bay.
SCOURFIELD, J. & EVANS, R. 2015. Why might men be more at risk of suicide after a relationship breakdown? Sociological insights. American Journal of Men’s Health, 9(5):380-384.
Shapiro, A. & Lambert, J. (1999). Longitudinal effects of divorce on the quality of the father-child relationship and on fathers’ psychological well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 397-408.
VUKALOVICH, D. & CALTABIANO, N. 2008. The effectiveness of a community group intervention program on adjustment to separation and divorce. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 48(3/4):145-186.